- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 14, 2004

The presidential contest in the battleground states that likely will decide the election tilted in Sen. John Kerry’s favor after the Democratic National Convention, but Republicans say the race is now shifting back toward President Bush.

Public polling by newspapers and other news organizations showed that the Massachusetts senator got a modest 5-point post-convention bounce that strengthened the edge he held in a number of major competitive states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire — a shift that Bush campaign officials acknowledged in background interviews last week.

But these same officials now point to more recent voter surveys and their own private polling, saying that Mr. Kerry’s bounce appears to be weakening at a time when Mr. Bush has been waging a fierce counterattack on the Democratic nominee for his shifting positions on Iraq and the war on terrorism.

“Battleground state polling numbers tend to lag somewhat from the national data so that the bounce that Kerry got a week after the convention is now being seen in the state polls. So where the race had the president slightly up in Florida, Kerry is up a few points there and up similarly in other battleground states,” a Bush campaign official acknowledged.

Still, Mr. Kerry’s smaller-than-expected bounce seems to be dissipating, according to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll that was released Friday. The national voter survey showed Mr. Bush’s job approval rating climbed last week over the 50 percent mark to 51 percent. No president has lost re-election when his approval numbers were above 50 percent at this point in the campaign.

The new shift in the Gallup poll, which showed the president leading his Democratic rival by 48 percent to 46 percent, suggested that the national numbers may soon be reflected in the polls in competitive states that Mr. Bush must carry if he is to win a second term.

“What’s encouraging about the Gallup numbers and other surveys is that they show a similar trend for the president,” the Bush campaign official said. When asked what other surveys he was referring to, he replied, “like [internal campaign polling] stuff I see that you don’t.”

“That the president’s approval numbers are improving even before we get to the convention is really encouraging. It shows that Kerry’s bounce was short-lived and had little long-term impact in the race,” the official said.

The Kerry campaign dismissed the Gallup survey, saying that it only confirmed that the contest would be competitive right through to Election Day.

“We said all along that this is going to be a tight race. The Bush campaign should spend less of their time talking about polls and more time talking about their plans for the future,” Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton said.

Even so, a preliminary state-by-state review of more recent polls suggested that the Gallup numbers were a reflection of the shifting voter sentiment in some key states.

No state is more important than Ohio, a state that Mr. Bush won narrowly in 2000 but has been struggling in all year. Mr. Kerry held the edge there for months, but last week a Columbus Dispatch poll showed him trailing the president 47 percent to 44 percent, with 2 percent for Ralph Nader and 7 percent undecided. The poll’s margin of error was two percentage points.

The race in Wisconsin, which Al Gore carried in 2000, has considerably tightened in the last two weeks. It is a state that Mr. Kerry cannot afford to lose, but he is only two points ahead of Mr. Bush, 49 percent to 47 percent, in a Strategic Vision poll that has a three-point margin of error. Other polls show the race tighter, including Mr. Bush’s own polling.

“Wisconsin is one place where the president is doing well,” a Bush campaign official said.

Mr. Kerry had hoped that his nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Boston would lengthen a narrow three-point lead in Iowa, a state that Mr. Gore also carried. But the state remains in a dead heat, according to public polls, and internal Bush campaign polls show the president with a slight lead.

In other major states, Mr. Kerry leads in West Virginia, New Hampshire and Florida, all of which Mr. Bush carried in 2000, as well as in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and New Mexico, which all went to Mr. Gore. Mr. Bush either leads or has a slight edge in Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina and Missouri, states that he carried last time.

Mr. Bush leads his rival in every Southern state, except Florida, and in all the Western Plains states, except New Mexico.

But last week’s Gallup poll, the one most closely followed by political analysts, gives the Bush camp reason to hope that they will soon see their numbers improve in other battleground states where they are running behind.

“Generally speaking, throughout this election cycle the state polls have been very consistent with national polls,” a Bush official said.

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